Workout Tips for Achy Joints


You know the old adage, “No pain, no gain”?

Forget it, especially if you have osteoarthritis, says Kathy Edwards, a certified personal trainer and fitness coordinator at Baptist Health Fitness Formula. Opt for a slow, steady and consistent approach to exercise instead.

“There is no reason for pain,” she says. “Exercise is a lifestyle, not something you are going to do for just right now. Why would I do something forever that is going to hurt forever?”

In osteoarthritis, the protective cartilage between bones wears down, leading to joint inflammation and pain. Continued exercise is important because stronger muscles take pressure off the bones, Edwards says.

“Typically, you can slow the process (of osteoarthritis) by keeping moving,” she says.

She offers these tips for avoiding pain while exercising, especially when your joints already hurt.

  • Work with a professional to figure out what exercises you can pursue and at what intensity. 

    Talk to a physical therapist, a certified personal trainer or another exercise expert who can help you build a regimen that makes sense for you.Jogging and jumping rope are usually out for people with osteoarthritis, but a low-impact activity such as swimming is excellent. “You are working every muscle in your body. You are kicking your legs, you’re swinging your arms, your heart is pumping,” Edwards says. But all the while, water relieves pressure on the joints.

    Other helpful exercises might include walking, yoga, Pilates or riding a recumbent bike.

  • Start off slowly but incorporate the three key components of exercise into your routine: cardiovascular work, strength building and flexibility.Look to fitness centers that offer classes designed for people with osteoarthritis, Edwards says. Those will take into account physical limitations of the condition. Or consider a class for older participants.

    If you are not interested in a class, get dumbbells and do curls in front of the TV. Do leg extensions. Go for a walk.

  • Stretch before getting out of bed.Edwards teaches a class that attracts participants into their 90s who do everything from floor work to exercises on a stability ball. Class members often ask how they can walk properly, without a hunch or stiffness.

    Edwards’ answer? “Take five minutes before you ever get out of bed to stretch.”
    Bring your knees to your chest. Extend your legs. Reach over your head. If you are lying flat, raise your legs to the ceiling.

    These simple movements lengthen muscles that have contracted a bit while at rest.
    “It basically stretches your body out to normal length,” she says, and allows you to stand erect.

  • Don’t be a negative Nellie. People often underestimate what they can do. “We can always do more than what we think we can, but we’re afraid it’s going to hurt,” Edwards says.

    She cites her own mother, who can walk farther than she thinks is possible when she’s with an encouraging coach who is watching her performance and making sure she’s safe.

    “The pain is real, but the fear of pain is more real,” Edwards says.

  • Keep the payoff in mind.Some stiffness is normal after exercise, Edwards says. “But the activity — gaining strength, building muscle and getting flexibility and range of motion — will eventually alleviate some of the pain.”

    And that helps people live the way they want to live: playing with grandchildren, being active and staying out of a wheelchair.

Schedule an appointment with an exercise physiologist at Fitness Formula — with locations in Madisonville, Dawson Springs, Hopkinsville and Princeton — to help you design a program that is right for you. Program design and classes are free with membership. Call 270.824.2020.

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